NEW YORK — His role is at the finish line of an album, helping it sound as perfect as possible before it’s available to the masses. He’s won 10 Grammys, including three consecutive wins for album of the year from 2013-2015. And he’s collaborated with contemporary leaders like Pharrell and Daft Punk to iconic acts like Led Zeppelin and Bruce Springsteen.
Bob Ludwig is one of the most important figures in music, though you may not know his name. He earned airtime when Beck won album of the year for “Morning Phase” at last year’s Grammy Awards, where Ludwig appeared onstage as a winner, too, for working as the mastering engineer on the album.
“I’ve spent more time mastering that record more than any other record I’ve ever mastered almost by a long shot. He wouldn’t let that record go. He kept remixing it and remixing it,” Ludwig said. “Twice on a weekend I worked until midnight with him, on the phone, emailing, going back and forth. ... We had a lot of time invested in that record.”
Ludwig won the top Grammy in 2014 with Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” and a year before that for Mumford & Sons’ “Babel.”
He’s nominated again at the awards show for album of the year with Alabama Shakes’ “Sound & Color.” It also earned Ludwig a nomination for best engineered album, non-classical.
The 71-year-old, who plays trumpet and piano, worked under the late Phil Ramone at A&R Recording Studios. Ludwig masters about 150 to 200 albums a year, and his Portland, Maine-based Gateway Mastering includes eight employees, the newest team member started at the company more than a decade ago.
The Grammy Awards air at 8 p.m. Feb. 15 on CBS.
Ludwig recently talked about the Grammys, working with A-list artists and more.
Q: What’s the difference between the mixing and the mastering engineers?
A: The mixing engineer has the harder job because they track a multitrack recording for a pop record and mix it down into stereo, and that’s very difficult to do ... And then mastering engineers, when the mixes are done, the question is, “Does it sound as good as it possible can?” ... “Are the mixes flowing into one another properly?” ...
I guess what I do is I imagine how it could sound and I know what knobs to move to make it sound like it does in my head.
Q: Can you master an entire album in a day?
A: Yes. Or at least I can get my first go at it, and then we send it to the artist and the managers and the record label and everybody listens and makes comments. ... There’s things that you just need to have feedback from the artist to see what their vision is. That’s what mastering really is — to bring the artist’s vision to the public.
Q: How involved are you with the artists?
A: Before the collapse of the record industry, we would have three out of five days attended, and now with the record industry being a shadow of what it used to be, the budgets aren’t what they used to be, we probably get attended one out of five days. ... Someone like Bruce Springsteen, when he’s doing one of his major albums, he’ll always come up and it’s part of a completion process for him to come up and listen to the (album) here and make comments.
Q: At last year’s Grammys, you competed against yourself for album of the year with Pharrell and Beck’s albums. Which did you want to win?
A: In that particular case, Pharrell’s album was fantastic, there’s no question about it, but for me, Beck’s record was like a masterpiece. ... I would stack that record against any pop record that was ever made.